I got into a conversation, a while back, with a young writer. (Now, when I say young, I don’t mean age, I mean experience. This person was probably in their fifties.) It was a very nice conversation. We talked about what they were working on. We talked about their manuscript, and the process it went into it for them to get it completed.
But, at some point in the conversation we got into how to sell the manuscript. We talked about options for getting it into an editor’s hands: finding an agent, submitting to a publisher that took unsolicited manuscripts, or maybe even meeting an editor at a con and showing them their work. This person definitely was interested in getting an editor’s eyes on their work and seeing if they could sell it. However (and this was a big HOWEVER), they were apprehensive. They liked the idea of being paid money for it, seeing it in print and all the jazz that comes along with that sort of thing, it was just that they weren’t “a real writer”, and feared how they would be perceived by an editor.
This reaction got me thinking. Maybe because I’m kind of a socially unaware troglodyte, but I’ve always been the kind of person to print my own business cards before I had anything to put on them and decide who was going to be my next new friend at cons. That isn’t to say that I don’t have insecurities like everyone else, because I really do, just that I try not to trip over them on my way to give some one a handshake.
I think what I found most interesting about this conversation was the question it made me ask myself: “Well, when does one become a real writer, then?” Because, quite blankly, if you were to ask me, if I see some one who put in hours of typing and research to create a manuscript, to me you are a real writer. I don’t really have any further denotations on my litmus test here. However, talking to this young writer it would seem they do.
I find this all to be a huge mental block, though. I mean, every writer is exactly where they are professionally, will be where they are, or have been there. So, a matter of speaking, there really is nothing to be ashamed of. Yet, this shame persists. Basically, they are ashamed of something that can’t be avoided, nor helped. Everyone will be, is, or has been there, like I said.
I did ask the question, because I can’t help myself 99% of the time: “At what point would you think you are a real writer?”
The response was mottled, but it mostly seemed to sit around when some one, who knew better than this person, would tell them that they were acceptable in this industry.
The obvious problem being is that this scenario doesn’t happen. And, worse of all (most blessedly of all!) this person does not exist. No, Neil Gaiman isn’t going to run up to you, stamp a gold star to your forehead and declare you a real writer. (Hell! There might even be darker days where he, himself, is waiting for some one to do that for him, if he’s like me and most writer’s I know.)
And, this is where I get introspective, maybe a little melancholy over it all. No one will ever emerge in your life and tell you the time has come for you to be taken with consideration. Nor, do you need them to. I don’t care what it is you are doing, what you are pursuing–I don’t care if the whole world thinks you are a fool, and have no business doing what it is you are setting out to do–it is worthy.
This isn’t about other people. This isn’t about a peanut gallery of sometimes real, but mostly imaginary, hecklers and naysayers. This is about you. And you are worthy.
You will have gone your entire life with your story untold to anyone if you are waiting for some naysayers, or judgemental prats, or imaginary literary police, to tell you the time has come to finally start taking yourself seriously.
I say this very starkly, because it did take me a bit of work to grasp this myself, and it is so freeing I can’t go without sharing it at least once a week at this point: You never need anyone’s permission to take yourself seriously!
Repeat: You don’t need anyone’s permission to feel, or think anything. So don’t wait for it.
The whole world can be against you, but if you are for you, you are legit in your intention, and prospects. You’d be surprised at how full the literary world is (and many other areas are) with hapless people just winging it–stumbling around, faking it.
Another thing that took far too long for me to learn, but my life has been so much fuller since I grasped (and something I have to give myself pep-talks on): It i better to ask for forgiveness, than permission.
We are not children. We are grown. Adults DO NOT ask for permission.
If you should ever find yourself at a con, and an editor gave a talk you particularly liked, it is perfectly okay to walk up to that editor say “Hi, my name is…” shake their hand and say “I have a manuscript I think would be perfect for your press.”
The worse they can do is tell you no. And, if they tell you no, thank them for their time, and hand them your business card anyways!
I repeat: the worse they can say is no.
No is not the same as rejection. No is good. No is an answer. You know what isn’t good?–waiting around hoping they notice you, like a wallflower on prom night wishing they could have a dance.
Chances are, you won’t get a blank no, either. Editors are in the business of making money by selling books. They want new books, to launch new successful careers, all so they can turn profit. You more than likely will end up exchanging business cards with them, which will contain a webpage or email you can submit your manuscript to for them, or a junior editor, to review. <—-sounds so business-like, doesn’t it? Almost like you are proposing to do business with them. Almost like you are a business professional. Almost like you are some one to be taken seriously. (Ahem?)
Almost like there wasn’t an imaginary guard, standing vigilant to keep all you non-real writers at bay?
There is no guard. Not a real one anyways.
“I felt ashamed.”
“But of what? Psyche, they hadn’t stripped you naked or anything?”
“No, no, Maia. Ashamed of looking like a mortal — of being a mortal.”
“But how could you help that?”
“Don’t you think the things people are most ashamed of are things they can’t help?”
― C.S. Lewis,